US Senators Want FTC to Probe Privacy Policies and Practices of Smart TV Manufacturers

By Nitish Singh / July 14, 2018

Two US Senators from the Democratic party sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into Smart TV manufacturers and their privacy policies to identify any privacy breaches. With no federal laws in place to protect users from data collection by Smart TV manufacturers, the senators want to protect consumers from manufacturers who do not notify users about their data collection methods.

The letter states “Many Internet-connected smart TVs are equipped with sophisticated technologies that can track the content users are watching and then use that information to tailor and deliver targeted advertisements to consumers. Regrettably, smart TV users may not be aware of the extent to which their televisions are collecting sensitive information about their viewing habits. By identifying the broadcast and cable shows, video games, over-the-top content like Netflix, and other applications that users are viewing, smart TVs can compile detailed profiles about users' preferences and characteristics. Recent reports even suggest that smart TVs can identify users' political affiliations based on whether they watch conservative or liberal media outlets."

The senators revealed that federal law has not been updated to deal with privacy issues that can be caused by smart TVs. While rules exist for cable and satellite TV, there are no provisions for smart TVs yet, and it is likely that recent privacy concerns by media outlets can change that.

The protection policies that are currently in place do not protect users from being tracked by smart TV manufacturers. While laws can be passed by the Congress, the FTC’s investigation can hold smart TV manufacturers accountable for privacy breaches to control widespread user tracking.

Markey and Blumenthal also mentioned the recent privacy breach by Vizio in the letter. FTC found the smart TV manufacturer guilty of tracking the habits of 11 million customers without informing them. The senators did not suggest any form of punishment against those found guilty of breaching the user privacy.

However, they laid out some guidelines that need to be followed when it comes to collecting data from smart TV users. Markey and Blumenthal wrote, “Users should then be given the opportunity to affirmatively consent to the collection and use of their sensitive information, while still having access to the core functions of smart TV technology." The FTC has been actively auditing companies that breach user trust and privacy following the Facebook scandal and it is likely they will act swiftly on the US Senators' instructions.

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